Michael Z. Miller
Spotlight Artist: MC Lars
MC Lars, also known as Andrew Nielsen, got into music early. Starting in a California punk rock band known as Amphoteric in high school, Lars soon discovered a wide range of influences ranging from Public Enemy to Weird Al. After awhile, Lars transitioned out of Amphoteric and high school to Stanford to study English. At Stanford, Lars took the opportunity to study for a semester at Oxford, where he developed his own unique sound: post-punk laptop rap.
Now, a couple years later, MC Lars is still just as distinct as ever. Only now he has released a major label debut The Graduate, toured around the world from Japan to the U.K. to the U.S., and worked with artists such as Bowling For Soup and MC Chris. All while still managing to graduate from Stanford.
We caught up with MC Lars in Japan to see how he was doing.
FE: You just graduated from Stanford, and you just released your new album, The Graduate. What are you most proud of?
MC Lars: Finally finishing college. The album came pretty easily, having the discipline to go back and finish was what took work!
FE: Did you always picture yourself as a musician or did you consider you would go into some other line of work?
MC Lars: I always pictured myself as an artist, and being a musician is an extension of that has worked out vocationally at this point.
FE: Was there just one song that when you first heard it made you just say 'I know what I want to do in life?'
MC Lars: The song that made me want to pursue music was Al Yankovic's "I Love Rocky Road.” I remember listening to it on my dad's walkman while riding to school in fifth grade and thinking, "Wow, music can be funny and fun, this is what I should do with my life."
FE: Like Weird Al, you too parody music, in particular genres such as emo and ‘crunk’ rap. Do you know what you will parody next?
MC Lars: As long as popular music continues to take itself too seriously, I will be on the forefront ready to deflate its pomposity. We'll see what 2006 brings genre-wise, and see how that inspires me!
FE: You have mentioned previously that you want to make funny music and still have people take you seriously. Do you feel that your latest release, the Graduate, will finally cement you in critics' minds as a serious musician? Has your touring helped to do this as well?
MC Lars: The biggest step for this for me is finally having a live band. I'm bringing them to England to show that it is possible to translate laptop rap into live music. This current tour in Japan has helped in that it's another country where the MC Lars thing has been building.
FE: You have largely based your touring in Europe, but you have also toured in the U.S. Are they at all similar as far as touring is concerned?
MC Lars: ...the main difference is that England is so small and it's easier to build a fan base there. The US is ridiculously gigantic, so without a strong push from MTV or Rolling Stone, touring takes more time and work to build up a strong fan base. We'll see how this May tour with the Matches goes in terms of building the US Lars fan base.
FE: You have collaborated with such artists as Bowling For Soup, MC Chris, and the Matches. How has working with and touring with musicians such as these helped you advance your own style of music?
MC Lars: Collaborations are a great way to build strong ideas. When you're solo, it's very helpful to bounce one's ideas off of other people, to help steer the art in the right direction.
FE: On a different note, you’ve mentioned before how the record companies are being left behind in this digital world? How so, and what would one need to do to keep up?
MC Lars: You can get basically any song you want for free, so charging high prices for CD's is like trying to prevent teen pregnancy by only teaching abstinence education. The solution is to allow and encourage mp3s as a promotional tool and then hope to make one's living off of merchandise and live performances. This is the paradigm shift of the twenty-first century, and anyone who can not see that has their head in the sand.
FE: One author of The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution posted on their blog about how you are 'an artist for the future.' How do you see yourself? Are you the future?
MC Lars: I'm just a guy who has grown up being very familiar with technology, and the fact that I use this as a promotional tool and as an integral part of my creative process comes with the territory. It's hard to project into the future with what will become trendy again genre-wise... maybe throw-back post-punk 70's rock bands will be all the rage again? Oh wait, spoke too soon.
FE: Speaking of the future, what do you see as your future?
MC Lars: This year will see the UK headlining tour, then the US tour with the Matches, then Warped Tour, and presumable a return to England in the autumn. Things seem to be going well in Japan too, so I hope to be back here soon. I'm always brainstorming new ideas and writing, and I hope to have the follow-up to the The Graduate out sometime in 2007. MC Lars never sleeps...
FE: Fans are clearly essential for any artists’ success. What kind of relationship do you have with your fans?
MC Lars: I love my fans and try to stay in touch with them on MySpace and hang out with them at shows and stuff. The best art comes from when the line between the performer and the audiences is taken away.
FE: How would you describe your fan base?
MC Lars: The typical MC Lars fan is a seventeen-year-old British male, but of course this varies from territory to territory.
FE: Do you worry that your early fans will leave you as you get 'too' popular?
MC Lars: It's important to maintain integrity, but you can't be everything to everyone. As long as an artist stays true to his or her creative inspiration and works hard at putting out records that he or she is happy with, it's creatively unproductive to worry about what a bunch of people they don't know think [of] them becoming too popular or not.
FE: What was your goal starting out as an artist?
MC Lars: My ultimate goal was to one day be on some sort of indie label and have a fan base that cared about what I was doing enough to buy my CD's and give me feedback. In 2004, I realized that I already achieved that! Everything following has been surprising and amazing.
Click here to buy MC Lars' national debut - The Graduate